April 25, 2014 Liz Borkowski, MPH 0Comment

Monday, April 28, is Worker Memorial Day, and groups around the US – and around the world – are holding events and issuing reports this week to remember workers killed on the job and push for stronger workplace protections.

For Workers Memorial Week 2014, National Council for Occupational safety and Health (National COSH) has released the 2014 edition of its report Preventable Deaths: The Tragedy of Workplace Fatalities. The report focuses special attention on occupational illnesses, citing silica exposures and high-risk populations, including Hispanic and contract workers. In addition to an overview of US workplace hazards and recommendations to improve occupational health and safety, the report features the case studies of seven workers who lost their lives in US workplaces in 2013 and 2014:

  • Ronald Smith, a 57-year-old warehouse worker, was crushed by equipment at an Amazon warehouse in Avanel, New Jersey
  • Ana Maria Barrera-Bogarin, a 60-year-old farm worker, was killed by a tractor in a lettuce farm in Somerton, Arizona
  • Sarah Jones, a 27-year-old cinematographer, was killed by a train on the set of the Midnight Rider film near Doctortown, Georgia
  • Teresa Pickard, a 42-year-old autoworker, died of a heart attack in the LaGrange, Georgia Sewon America plant where workers had complained of extreme heat, lack of access to water, and other unsafe conditions
  • Gail Sandidge, a 57-year-old nurse, was fatally stabbed at the Good Shepherd Medical Center in Longview, Texas
  • Ryan Provancher, a 25-year-old oil field worker, died following a release of hydrogen sulfide from a broken pipe in a pumping location in Dunn County, North Dakota
  • Cesar Augusto Valenzuela, a 51-year-old airport baggage handler, died after apparently being struck by a vehicle on a service road at the Los Angeles International Airport.

The stories of workers who’ve been killed on the job, or who’ve developed fatal work-related illnesses, remind us of how awful the toll of unsafe workplaces can be, and how important it is to improve workplace health and safety. The report focuses on how preventable all these and other occupational injuries and illnesses.are  National COSH provides a table of sample counter-measures and controls that could address the hazards now resulting in these tragic workplace fatalities.

Groups from several states and regional areas — Tennessee; Wyoming; Houston, Texas; California; Massachusetts; and New York — will be releasing reports over the next several days. These reports will also include cases studies in which familiy members and those closest to these tragedies highlight the human side of the national workplace death toll. Family members and others who’ve lost loved ones to occupational injuries or illnesses, such as the members of the group United Support and Memorial for Workplace Fatalities (USMWF), make especially powerful cases for change.  Many brave members USMWF members have told their stories to reporters, lawmakers, and regulators in efforts to advocate for improved worker health and safety protections.

One recommendation in the National COSH report is for OSHA to establish a publicly available registry of workplace fatalities, listing workers killed with any available information on the details of the case. Currently, no complete listing of these tragic cases exist. Every one of these cases should be a wake-up call for the nation; instead, they often are buried in obituaries and rarely collected to show the widespread devastation unsafe workplaces cause.

To see if a Workers Memorial Day event is happening near you, check out the National COSH’s links to Workers Memorial Day (and Workers Memorial Week) events in 27 states.

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